What To Watch For
The Good Vibes Wolves™ may be back after a 107-83 throttling of the LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers at STAPLES Center last night. Tonight will be a big test for a Minnesota team that blew a 20-point lead in a 20-point loss to the Clippers last Friday night in Downtown Minneapolis.
Los Angeles is entering tonight’s matchup on a six-game win streak, in large part due to the play of Reggie Jackson, Paul George, and Nicolas Batum, who are averaging 21.3, 26.0 and 15.0 points per game, respectively, on the Clippers’ impressive run.
The trio has been fantastic, especially shooting the 3, on which the trio is shooting a combined 60/138 (43.5%).
Jackson especially torched the Wolves a couple weeks ago, when he got off for 29 and 20 points in the two wins, making a combined nine 3-pointers.
Ty Lue’s squad moves the ball very well, and starts four players capable of taking their defender off the dribble and either finishing at the rim or making the correct passing read to create open looks from beyond the arc. Los Angeles made 27 3s in their two wins at Target Center and will undoubtedly look to get up as many as they can with the way their three best offensive players are rolling.
Minnesota will have to contain Jackson and especially George in both isolations and ball screen actions to prevent over-helping from the corners. When the Wolves over-helped in the first two matchups, Clippers wings made them pay on corner triples and swings that led to open shots.
Here is an example of what can’t happen; Jackson dribbles without any resistance and finds Batum in the corner for an easy triple.
Last night, the Wolves did an excellent job of x-ing out to shooters, contesting without flying by, and forcing the Lakers to shoot shots Minnesota wanted them to take. The Clippers are much more cohesive offensive unit and surely will not have a quarter in which a) they miss more shots than they score points or b) score only 12 points.
In the second matchup with the Clippers, the Wolves held George to 21 points on 4/13 from 2 and 0/7 from 3, but they did allow him to shoot 14 free throws, of which he made 13. It will be essential for Minnesota to continue to swarm him and force him to be a playmaker rather than an isolation threat, like they did in the game No. 2.
Offensively, Minnesota will be able to run plenty of perimeter action for Karl-Anthony Towns, who was terrific last night against the Lakers. Towns scored 29 points on 11/17 FG in his most efficient scoring game since the season opener. Chris Finch consistently ran offense through KAT at the nail, which yielded positive results. It gives Towns the option to attack off the dribble, pull a defender out to the perimeter, or shoot a jumper if given the space, as well as set up Chicago, PnR, or DHO actions from there.
Finch should look to do more of this tonight, as both Ivica Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein are poor perimeter defenders that KAT — in theory — should have no problems with. With Anthony Edwards likely drawing Paul George, activating Towns to pressure the defense and take some of the offensive playmaking load off Edwards and D’Angelo Russell would be a welcomed formula when paired with last night’s found money schematically.
Minnesota should have plenty of options on the offensive end considering that all of Edwards, Towns and Russell have had at least two standout offensive performances in the last three games.
While all three are out there together, for my money, I’d like to see the Wolves run more high ball screens for Edwards to get him going down hill with Towns popping out for 3 and Russell in the strong side corner. It puts all three players in the situations they are most comfortable operating in.
Edwards is very obviously at his best when he’s attacking the rim. The sophomore sensation is shooting 63% at the rim (up from 59% last season), and is taking a combined 51% of his shots at the rim or in the short mid-range, per Cleaning the Glass.
Towns is shooting a ridiculous 47.4% from 3 on 7.1 attempts per game. That mark is second in the NBA among players with at least 5.0 nightly attempts, trailing only Seth Curry, who has the second highest career 3-point shooting percentage in the history of the NBA. Even if he doesn’t shoot on kick-outs, his pump-and-go drives should be very successful against slow bigs tonight.
Russell holds an effective field goal percentage of 62.1 on spot-ups, per Synergy, and has registered 1.23 points per possession in those situations, good for the 86th percentile league-wide. In each of the last three games, he has gotten going by splashing in catch-and-shoot 3s. He’s at his best as a point guard when playing with the 2s and has developed tremendous chemistry with Naz Reid in the pick-and-roll. I’d like to see Edwards handle the ball more with the starting group.
- Finch left Edwards out on the floor late into last night’s game seemingly to get some live reps running PnR with Reid. It wouldn’t surprise me if Reid sees more minutes with the starters so we can see more actions like this:
- This is the first back-to-back game of the year for the Wolves. The only other team who hasn’t yet played a back-to-back game is, fittingly, the Clippers.
- Serge Ibaka - G-League Assignment
- Brandon Boston Jr. - G-League Assignment
- Kawhi Leonard - Partial right ACL tear
- Marcus Morris Sr. - Knee
- Jason Preston - Foot
Thus far, I am 6-5 on picks this season. I post them generally about an hour before each game on my Twitter page.
Tonight’s play: Anthony Edwards O31.5 points+rebounds+assists.
- Edwards has gone over this mark in eight of the Wolves’ 11 games this season.
- Edwards is averaging about 34 PRA this season.
- Clippers are allowing 37.5 PRA to opposing SGs this season.
- Clippers are allowing 52 points in the paint over the last three games, 26th in the NBA.